How to Get the Most Adventure out of the Adventure Capital of the World
Bungee-jumping, jet-boating, and more await in Queenstown, New Zealand.
Queenstown is jaw-droppingly, breath-takingly, unbelievably beautiful. These aren’t superlatives – they’re fact. This four-season alpine town is settled on a bend of Lake Wakatipu, a Z-shaped monster that’s New Zealand’s longest lake. Rising sharply from the lake are jagged peaks, with one mountain range aptly named the Remarkables.
This outdoor playground has long attracted adventure junkies: people don’t sit still here. But beyond the more unexpected thrills, other activities await. The Central Otago wine region surrounding Queenstown is world-famous, particularly for pinot noirs. And restaurants are returning to their farm-to-table roots.
Whatever the season, whatever your interests, Queenstown won’t disappoint—and you can experience it now, along with other scenic parts of New Zealand, on one of Travel + Leisure’s new bookable Great Adventure trips with Butterfield & Robinsion. Here is all-you-need to know before visiting.
Where to Stay
This alpine-style lodge features 134 handsome rooms, suites, and apartments with sweeping views of peaked mountains and Lake Wakatipu. Located half-a-mile from central Queenstown, Hotel St Moritz strikes the balance between easy proximity and welcome distance from the buzz of town. It recently underwent a $3 million upgrade, not only to give the interior an extra flourish, but also to rethink their approach to guests. Hotel St Mortiz prides itself on making people feel welcome, from the hand-made kids’ toys to having ice at the ready for guests running the Queenstown Marathon. king room with lake view from $300 per night.
Queenstown’s newest darling opened in Decemer 2017, and it is a quirky gem. Think Andy Warhol meets après ski: The 69 rooms are designed by Nic Graham, with views of Lake Wakatipu, a make-your-own cocktail stand (complete with ingredients, menu, and necessary equipment), and a whimsical mini-bar stacked with goodies like local wine, merino socks, and a can of instant snow. It is located on the same side of the lake as Hotel St Moritz. king room with lake view from $400 per night.
This Grand Dame is the cornerstone – literally – of Queenstown, proudly holding court in the center of town. With uninterrupted views of Lake Wakatipu (which is just across the road), and mountains rising up behind, this regal hotel is as central as you can get, but a class-act since 1866, holding itself above Queenstown’s bungee-jumping, backpacker pub-crawls. Choose from seven opulent suites, four tasteful apartments in the Lakefront cottage, a peaceful three-bedroom private residence, or the bespoke $10,000 per night penthouse, with a breath-taking 1,076-square-foot balcony. lake view suite from $1,425 per night.
Where to Play
Queenstown has found a way to pair helicopters with any activity, and why not? It’s the best way to see the miles of mountains rising up and around this alpine town, making every view an epic one. Heli Bike NZ runs guided heli-bike tours from mid-October to late April. With six mountain ranges to choose from, and access to dozens of exclusive trails ranging from beginner (with some mountain bike experience) to advanced, tours range from three hours to most of the day. Fly up, ride down, have a shower, and kick back with wine from one of the best pinot noir regions in the world. tours start from $290, with bikes and helmets available for hire.
Perched on a cliff overlooking the winding Shotover River, the Onsen Hot Pools are blissful getaways, sheltered and tranquil whether you’re visiting après ski in winter, or stargazing on a clear summer night. Located ten minutes from town (a courtesy shuttle is available on request), these cedar-lined hot pools can comfortably hold four adults. (No alcohol is allowed, but a delicious range of organic fruit drinks will keep you hydrated.) The Onsen Hot Pools is popular experience, so book at least two weeks in advance. $54 per adult for a day visit, $69 per adult for an evening visit; prices per hour.
The winding ribbon of tarmac stretching 29 miles between Queenstown and the small town of Glenorchy (population 363) is one of the top ten driving roads in New Zealand. With the emerald-to-deep-blue Lake Wakatipu on the left, verdant, bush-clad hills tilting up to the right, and snow-capped mountains filling the windscreen, it’s easy to understand why. The only thing that would make this 45-minute drive better is trading the rental car for something with a little more X-factor – a Lamborghini Gallardo Sypder, for example, or Aston Martin V8 Vantage convertible. The road is too unpredictable (with too many caravans) to put your foot down, but you’ll still love the drive. $1,295 to rent the Lamborghini for a full day, $718 for the Aston.
Where to Shop
Located just outside the hubbub of Queenstown’s main square is this little shop with a soul, a meeting point for true adventure lovers. Climbers, kayakers, paragliders, skiers, boarders, mountaineers, and guides come here to trade stories and advice, to purchase good gear at affordable prices, and to escape the overly-marketed ‘outdoor lite’ brands that stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the higher rent area of town.
Around the corner from Eichardt’s, this beautiful stone gallery set in a historic waterfront cottage is an exhalation, an eclectic and ever-changing room of color, curiosity, and expression. Along with a new exhibition every month, Artbay hosts artists-in-residence and is a strong supporter of local New Zealand art. Visitors can browse works ranging in style from contemporary to sculpture to traditional landscapes.
Located on a central corner, this welcoming and elegant shop is more reminiscent of a gallery than jewelery store. Māori carvings, pounamu (New Zealand jade) carvings, and (nearly) life-sized whales hanging from the ceiling give Waka the Pacific voyager feel it’s named after. (Waka are Māori watercraft.) The space also showcases Tahitian Black and Eyris Blue Pearls, as well as Australian opals cut and polished on the premises by third-generation cutters.
Where to Eat
This lively, central restaurant has been serving lunch and dinner to locals and visitors alike for more than 25 years, winning a slew of awards along the way. Fishbone specializes in South Island seafood, fresh off the boat, and locally grown vegetables. Dishes like whole flounder roasted in brown butter, lemon, capers, and parsley, or green-lipped mussels steamed in garlic and white wine are what chef-owner Darren Lovell does best, paired with handpicked New Zealand wines. $27 dinner.
Set in a historic 1885 cottage in the heart of town, this fun eatery opened last year and was quickly embraced by Queenstown for its lively atmosphere and traveler-focused approach. Yonder changes throughout the day, offering breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner before transforming into a music venue at night. The dishes are inspired by things the owners discovered while traveling, like Bao Down – two charcoal bao buns with Vietnamese herbs, sriracha mayonnaise, and pulled pork or fried tofu. Nooks, crannies, an outdoor courtyard, booths, and large tables serve any group sizes. $20 dinner.
In a tucked away spot, just beyond Lake Hayes, about a 20 minutes’ drive from Queenstown, is one of Central Otago’s best wineries, paired with a boutique catering company. Delicious breakfasts, lunches, and late afternoon platters are served in the sunny garden courtyard of a historic cottage, a premium wine lighting up premium ingredients, elevating nibbles to an art form. Try the shared platter of braised Central Otago lamb with artichoke puree and herbs ($62 for two people) or linguine pasta with peas, rocket, grana padano, and smoked cherry tomatoes ($17 for one person). open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.